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I Just Want to Thank Everyone that made this Night Necessary

I think that Yogi Berra said it the best when thanking people inSt. Louis when the city decided to honor him when the Yankees came into town in 1947.  He meant to say “I just want to thank everyone that made this night possible” but it came out “I just want to thank everyone that made this night necessary.”

Last night I was promoted to the rank of Commander in the United States Navy.  I’ve been in the military 30 years and this is the first rank that I have not held twice since March 1987.  Since March 1st 1987 I served as an Army Captain and Major and then took a reduction in rank to enter the Navy serve as a Navy Lieutenant and Lieutenant Commander.

Swearing the Oath of Office

It was a special night. The management of the Norfolk Tides was happy to indulge my desire to do the oath behind home plate and throw out the first pitch.  Dave Rosenfield the General Manager approved it early in the season and his staff led by the Director of Community Relations, Heather McKeating made it happen and Linda Waisanen the Box Office Manager helped get the tickets for my guests in the same section.  It was good to see and talk with some of my friends from the Tides that I haven’t seen for a while, pitchers Chris Tillman and Chris George and catcher Adam Donachie.   Of course there were also my friends Elliott, Chip and Audrey the Ushers, concessionaires and members of the Tide Watchers Booster club.

RP1 Nelson Lebron, me and Judy

I had the honor of having my old commanding officer from Marine Security Force Battalion, Colonel Mike Paulovich USMC (Retired) come down from Washington DC to administer the Oath of Office.  Likewise I had my wife Judy, who has seen me through my entire career and endured many separations due to deployments, field exercises and schools at my side.  For those that have not served in the military the stress that our spouses go through is tremendous and many marriages do not survive.  There is a reason that around many military bases you will see bumper stickers that say “Navy wife, the toughest job in the military” or Marine or Army wife.  I was also honored to have my former assistant from EOD Group Two RP1 Nelson Lebron there. Nelson and I went to Iraq together and he is an amazing Sailor and I count him as a close friend.  He was my trusted body guard and I would go to war with him again any day of the week.  Judy and Nelson switched out my shoulder boards before I took the oath.

I also had some very special friends in attendance at the game, people that I really wanted to be there; LCDR Greg Ostrander USN (Retired), Randy and Sandy Smith, Jerry Channell, Denise Denise Özdemir and Karen Johnson and their significant others.  There were some people that because of military duty or other commitments that could not make it, however I know they were there in spirit due to the notes, messages and phone calls.

With Advisers in Iraq

One problem of living on the opposite coast from your family is that it is difficult to have them with you on occasions like this.  My mom, my brother and his family in California could not be here but hopefully if I make Captain in a few years or when I retire they will be able to come.  My dad passed away the day after the selection list was announced in June of 2010 but I know that he was here in spirit.

Me and RP1 Nelson Lebron in Iraq, there is no better body guard

There are people that were there for me at many points in my career that helped “make this day necessary.”  The late Master Sergeant Harry Zilkan from the UCLA ROTC detachment and Sergeant First Class Harry Ball who broke me down and built me up during my ROTC pre-commissioning “Advanced Camp at Fort Lewis in 1982 were early influences.  SFC Ball a crusty Special Forces type with a lot of Vietnam tours had me blubbering “I got nowhere else to go” like Lewis Gossett Jr. did to Richard Gere in the movie An Officer and a Gentleman. Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Lawson my ROTC advisor at UCLA was also helpful during those two formative years.  First Sergeant Jim Koenig at 557th Medical Company taught me a lot about enlisted leadership and helped mentor me as a young Lieutenant while Colonel Donald A. Johnson the commander of the 68th Medical Group showed me how to get the most out of people and the importance of knowing the details of an operation without getting in the way of people doing the mission.  Master Sergeant (Retired) Cynthia Carter was my Platoon Sergeant at 557th and went through a lot of deep waters with me there.  She was at my promotion to Captain at Fort Sam Houston in 1987.  I am still in contact with a good number of my soldiers from the 557th and each of them was helpful in my career.

LTC Ike Adams and me 1987

When I started down the road to becoming a chaplain back in 1987, Lieutenant Colonel Ike Adams, my Executive Officer at the Academy Brigade, Academy of Health Sciences was very important in helping me down that road. He is now a professor at Asbury College in Wilmore Kentucky.  Chaplain, Major Wayne Lura (USA Retired) gave me advice that has kept me out of trouble talking to me about the pitfalls of ministry and chaplaincy even before I even went to seminary.  Chaplain, Lieutenant Colonel Rich Whaley saved my ass a number of times at the Army Chaplain school during the Basic and Advanced courses.  I have stayed in contact with Rich, who I believe is one of the finest chaplains that I have ever met and he now is the Endorsing Agent for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints working with LDS Chaplains in both the Military and other Federal Chaplain programs.  Chaplain, Colonel John Price was an Episcopal Priest and the State Chaplain for the Texas Army National Guard and taught me a lot about how to be there for people, especially leaders going through difficult times.  Chaplain, Colonel Paul Howe who I served with in Germany during the Bosnia Operation helped me as a young mobilized Army Reserve Major learn to be a good supervisory Chaplain and look out for the junior chaplains and assistants under my care. He also taught me something important about caring for the sacramental needs of a diverse Christian community.

Army Chaplain School 1990 with Chaplain Bill Blackie (L) and Rich Whaley (Center)

There also was my congregation at Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania, where I served from 1997-1998.  My Commanding Officer, Colonel Tom Allmon, his family and my Parish Council including the late Major General Frank Smoker USAF/PAAirNG, Colonel Ray Hawthorne, USA Retired, the late Major Scotty Jenkes (USAF Retired), CWO4 Herman Bolt, (USA Retired), and Sergeant Bill Ward, and my assistant SSG, now Army Chaplain, Major Steve Cantrell were all instrumental in my success there while General Smoker, Colonel Hawthorne and Colonel Allmon wrote letters to help get me into the Navy.

When I came into the Navy I was helped by Captain John Kaul CHC USN, who served as my Division and MEF Chaplain at Camp LeJeune. He became a model for my Chaplain ministry and has been a great encouragement over the years.  Captain Fred Elkin CHC USN, was my first detailer and set me up for success by sending me to the Second Marine Division figuring that my Army background would help me there.  Fred and I later served at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. Captain, Chaplain Deborah McGuire, CHC USN, was great to work with at the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.  Captain Mike Langston the II MEF Forward Chaplain who I served with in Iraq set me up for success there and Captain Jesse Tate CHC USN was really good in helping me get through the toughest time of my life after I returned to Iraq and was assigned to Portsmouth.  My fellow Chaplains there, Commander Jeff Seiler, Commander Derek Ross, Commander Kevin Anderson, Lieutenant Albert Cross, Fr. Fred Elkin and Chaplain, Captain Jerry Shields USN (Retired) were amazing in helping me get through that painful time.  Then there is my current staff, Lieutenant Shauna Sanders, Captain, Chaplain Vince Arnold, USN (Retired) and Chaplain, Lieutenant Commander Duke Quarles USN (Retired).  I have had a number of great assistants and Religious Program specialists during my time as a chaplain.  Of course there have been others who have along the way been there for me to give advice, encouragement and assistance that are too numerous to name.

USS HUE CITY Boarding Party

My commanding officers that I have served with in Marine Corps and Navy units have been awesome including Marine Lieutenant Colonel T. D. Anderson, Colonel Louis Rachel,Major General Richard Lake, Colonel Mike Paulovich and Colonel Dan Rogers.  Sergeant Major Kim Davis USMC was an outstanding Sergeant Major to work with, the grandson of Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis, the first African American General in the U.S. Army, he taught me much in caring for Marines and gave me really helpful advice a number of times.  Captain Rick Hoffman my first skipper on the USS HUE CITY and his Command Master Chief, CMDCM Mark Dubiel were awesome to work for with as are my current Commanding Officer at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune Captain Dan Zinder, MC USN and my current Command Master Chief CMDCM Terry Prince.  Command Master Chief Gerry Pierce, (USN Retired) has been like family since we served together on HUE CITY.

Soul Vikes

Then there are my fellow officers in the Navy, Army and Marine Corps, my shipmates from the HUE CITY and the Sailors, Soldiers and Marines too numerous to mention that have been part of my life for the last 30 years.  Likewise my teachers and professors, LCDR Jim Breedlove and Senior Chief John Ness from the Edison High Navy Junior ROTC program, Gloria Nomura, Coach Duke Pasquini, Dr. Delmar McComb at San Joaquin Delta College, Dr Helmut Heussler at California State University Northridge, Dr. Doyle Young and Doug Dickens at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Dr. Steve Ivy at Parkland Memorial Hospital. All of these men and women were amazing in my education and formation as an academic and Priest.

Last but certainly not least are those friends that have been there for me for years going back to my “Soul Vikes” from Edison High School and Stockton Junior High. Those that I went to Army ROTC at UCLA, and those that I have served with over the years in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps as well as seminary classmates, and my colleagues in the clergy from my old church and the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church where I serve today.  Thank you Bishop Diana Dale, and my old friends Fr Greg Schluter from the Navy and the Charismatic Episcopal Church, Major Marty Grossman who I have known since my first day on active duty, Dr. Rick Herrera, Gary Vassar and Becky Munoz-Smith who were with me at UCLA and so many more friends, shipmates and comrades that I cannot name them all.

Finally there are my readers on this site that have encouraged me with their comments since I started this site in February 2009.

If as Hillary Clinton said it takes a village, I have good sized town that has stood by my side over the years and I am blessed.

Again I just want to thank everyone that made this night necessary.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Military, shipmates and veterans

Notes on a Trip to Houston

I have been travelling this week to a Chaplain and Clergy conference of my church, the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church in Houston Texas. It has been a really interesting trip. Just a few notes to make as I sit in the back of a cab on the way out to Houston Intercontinental Airport and in the terminal while awaiting my flight.

I am not a big fan of flying anymore and find commercial air in the United States to be a bit more nerve wracking than flying military air in Iraq. There I was treated well and not as a criminal when trying to get aboard an aircraft. I think that the Patriot Act and the TSA has determined that we are all guilty until proven innocent because we wither choose to fly or due to business, even on military orders have to fly. After my criticisms of both the TSA and the Patriot Act last year I was shocked that I have not been put on the no-fly list or selected to have my junk fondled.

In a surprise I found that the agents for U.S. Air were much more polite and helpful than in years past both at Norfolk and Houston. At Norfolk an agent figured out that I was military by my trusty desert tan Blackhawk backpack which has accompanied me almost everywhere since I went to Iraq back in 2007 and made sure that I or you being the taxpayer were not charged for my baggage. The flight crews were also friendly and the check-in personnel at Houston were also polite and helpful and did the same as Norfolk regarding my baggage.

While still having to go through the screening procedure the TSA personnel were better than many that I have encountered and I was not forced to have my junk fondled or go through the super high intensity x-ray machine. Unlike many TSA checkpoints that I have been through I had the agent that checked my ID and boarding pass was polite and called me by my military rank.  This may not seem like a big deal except that I have been accosted in uniform at some TSA checkpoints and forced to remove insignia qualification badges and ribbons despite having my ID and orders in hand while people that were obviously foreign and wearing Middle Eastern garb were permitted through without so much as batting an eyelash.  Thus when I am treated politely by TSA I do think that it is a big deal. That takes nothing away from my beliefs that the Patriot Act and the TSA act as though people are guilty until proven innocent and are egregious violations of the Constitution and the Civil Rights of Americans.

While on flight from Charlotte to Houston I sat next to a man about my age. I noticed that he had a Bible and throughout the flight seemed very engrossed in it and when he looked up appeared as if his gaze was far away. I noticed that he was reading 2nd Corinthians chapter 5 and I mentioned that my one of my favorite sections of the Bible was there. He ask which and I pointed out verses 17-21 about those in Christ being new creations and that God was reconciling the World through Christ counting people’s since not against them and that we were Christ’s ambassadors.  He struck up a bit of a conversation with me and mentioned that he was a minister on the staff of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg Virginia and that he was on his way to Texas because his father had just died after a battle with Cancer and that he would be doing his funeral. I had been writing “A Ballgame with St. Pete” and remembering my own father’s death last summer so I gave him my condolences and shared just a bit about losing my dad and how I could not do the funeral because of the emotion involved.  It was nice to be there for someone going through this as the trip to bury a loved one can be one of the loneliest times of one’s life.

The conference was wonderful and in the time together we had many hours of productive discussion of church business, developments in the professional pastoral care world and care for each other. I found that I fit in well and felt an instant kinship with my fellow clergy which in my case for the first time in church included ordained women. My previous church had a male only clergy. I found how much I appreciate the Old Catholic ethos of being a refuge, a place of healing and a place of openness which upholds the teachings of the first seven councils of the Ancient Church and strives for thru ecumenical Catholicity.  Bishop Diana Dale our Presiding Bishop is a gem and I felt kinship with the people that I met. I miss the friends that I served with in the Charismatic Episcopal Church for over 14 years I know that I am in the right place.

After our last formal business session on Saturday we went to get to the San Jacinto Battlefield and while some went to the Memorial to the Texas Independence Memorial some of us went over to the USS Texas to see this last example of the Dreadnought era battleships. I have wanted to see the Texas for many years and have written about her on this site. It was interesting to note despite the fact that she was commissioned 98 years ago that much is still the same in current Navy ships. Yes things were a lot more primitive but at the same time much was the same.  It was really a nice expedition with Robert one of my fellow Priests from Maryland and Gale our senior Deacon who comes from Iowa.

After the trip we went out to a Mexican restaurant named Ninfa’s where the Fajita was invented. One thing about that trip was when we were told that our table was ready. The restaurant was very busy and we waited in the bar. When we were called we were led in and on our right a man, obviously military was giving thanks for the meal with his family. They were holding hands and he had a very loud and clear voice and I heard this little bit. “Father I thank you for being home with my family and that I have returned safe from Afghanistan, please bring a swift end to this war….” That was all that I heard but it was enough to get me to pause and realize that it was my prayer too.  I think that some people wrongly believe that those that serve in the professional military are warmongers when in fact I know that many have no illusions about this war and after 10 years many, especially the regular career professionals in the officer and senior NCO ranks feel the same way.  It was a poignant moment.  We know that the current war will go on and most of us are convinced that the situation around the world is going to cause us to be embroiled in even more conflicts.

I think there was one other significant thing about this trip. I was able to control my anxiety and did not have any PTSD meltdowns in any of the terminals or crowded situations. Not to say that I was entirely comfortable or without anxiety but that unlike many of the trips that I have made since returning from Iraq I did not suffer any panic attacks.

This morning we had an ordination service for a new Deacon which was really nicely done with the traditional Ordination of a Deacon Liturgy and Mass. After that was done I had to make a quick change to catch a cab back to the airport.  I look forward to being home for a bit before Judy comes with me to help me settle in to my new island hermitage on Tuesday.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under christian life, faith, PTSD